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Trouble with their lions

FOR AN industry supposedly overrun with clever liberals the "war on terror" has not, so far, been met with a very entertaining response from Hollywood. The films dealing with it have been overly worthy and overly wordy. The latest is Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, which takes its name from a comment made by a German officer during World War I, comparing British soldiers' bravery with the calculated criminality of their commanders. Redford makes it clear that this is how he sees the current dynamic between the Bush administration and the American troops in the Middle East.

And so, we find an ambitious senator (Tom Cruise) lecturing a Kate Adie-ish reporter (Meryl Streep) about the need for one more surge. She chews his ear about the stupidity of American military belligerence and we head to a university where a don (Redford) promises better grades to a student if he pours his talents into stopping the war.

This is a relentlessly earnest morality play on the importance of stopping the war in Iraq and getting rid of Bush. The characters seem cardboard cutouts of the views they represent -- and it's clear which the makers prefer. The performances are fairly good, though Tom Cruise can't resist letting us know he doesn't really believe in all this Republican rubbish his character spouts. Stars of this calibre should probably look for better material if they want to assuage their liberal guilt.


Planet Terror

Cert 16

RELEASED in the US as a Grindhouse double bill with the Quentin Tarantino-directed Death Proof, Planet Terror is a similar attempt to celebrate that B-movie schlockbuster genre that had its heyday in the Seventies.

Though an improvement on the former, released here a few weeks ago, this Robert Rodriguez-directed feature adds substance to the argument that the genre doesn't merit much celebration. The plot concerns the fallout after a viral outbreak at a military installation has led to a zombie alert. It isn't long before the gore has hit the fan, leading to levels of industrial-strength splatter. Cue kill-or-be-killed scenario as survivors led by the enigmatic El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) go stump to stump with the zombie hordes.

Planet Terror has some good comic moments and keeps its tongue in its cheek for the duration -- no small achievement when you consider the number of dismembered organs on display.

Zombie fans are unlikely to leave feeling shortchanged, but less excitable cinema goers are likely to find the overall impression considerably less than the sum of its body parts.

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The Jane Austen Book Club

Cert PG

CONSIDERING I spent my last birthday with a pile of gal pals touring the locations of Pride and Prejudice, it will be no surprise to you that I went to The Jane Austen Book Club with a biased and judgmental attitude. Jane Austen is a very personal subject for me, one I am passionate about.

The Jane Austen Book Club, based on Karen Jay Fowler's novel, tells the story of a group of friends, their relationship crises and how Jane Austen helped save their sanities. Set in present-day Sacramento, California, the film will satisfy both Austen fans and other women, as it is full of attractive men (as well as women), soap-like drama, gorgeous clothes, cool locations and debate son love versus materialism and practicality.

With lines such as: "You're a lesbian full time?" from Bingley-esque love interest, Grigg (Hugh Dancy, not Darcy) of another member of the book club, "High school is never over!" screamed by Prudie (Emily Blunt), in full histrionic Marianne Dashwood-like manner, to "Reading Jane Austen is a freaking minefield" from Bernadette (Kathy Baker), I laughed out loud.

Directed by Robin Swicord and also starring Jimmy Smits and Maria Bello, The Jane Austen Book Club is slow to get off the ground, but worth staying with for its funny script and fabulous insights on Austen's writing. Just imagine Gray's Anatomy meets Jane Austen, with none of the sex, but all the eye candy and emotions.

'The Jane Austen Book Club' opens next Friday


Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Cert 12A

NEARLY a decade has passed since Shekhar Kapur's dark masterpiece Elizabeth showed that queen's troubled accession to the English throne in 1558. Now comes its sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Kapur's monarch has reigned for nearly 30 years. This Elizabeth is far more confident than the tremulous Virgin Queen who faced dissent and death. But there are still problems, personally and politically. The latter appears in the shape of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) and Philip II of Spain, and the pain that religious idealism creates and incites, resonates down the centuries. Again, as in her early years, Elizabeth is aided by spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush).

Counterpointed against this war is the pursuit of love. Clive Owen is a dreamy Sir Walter Raleigh, who brings potatoes, tobacco and charm to this court. One wonders, though, at the inexplicable decision to rewrite the queen's famous eve-of-battle cry and the sight of her gazing upon her fleet in a diaphanous nightie is risible. Above all, it suffers grievous comparison to its subtler and more complex predecessor. But there's much to revel in too. An enjoyable romp, it looks heavenly -- the interiors are as covetable and sumptuous as the costumes. And the acting is, mostly, wonderful with the incomparable Cate Blanchett bringing to the title role her customary grit and grace.


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